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Unlocking the secrets of restaurant etiquette: A blog by Kelsey Bucknam

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Nothing taught me quite so much as working in a restaurant. Maybe it’s because you interact with people in a way that you don’t anywhere else. Maybe it’s because, in being a server, you see people at their best and worst. I have learned much from my years in the restaurant industry, and some of it will help you. So sit tight and explore how to make your next restaurant experience a positive one for all those involved. First, remember that your servers are people. They want to be treated well. Being nice to your server can only benefit you. A great way to warm up your waiter/waitress is by using his/her name. It says to them, “I recognize that you are a human being and not just a robot designed to give me food.” Not only will you set yourself apart from other customers, but you will get better service because your server will want to give you a great experience. I understand that waiting to be seated is never fun. But please, please don’t point to an empty table and ask why you can’t just sit there. Servers are assigned specific tables to wait on and if no one is being seated at one, there probably isn’t a server available to take care of you. If you are a big table, hosts often have to wait for other people to leave before they can find you a spot. If those people sit for a long time, they can’t do anything about it, so please be patient. They want to get you seated as soon as possible, too. If your food is taking a long time, it is often an issue in the kitchen. There might be a lot of orders to make or perhaps there was a mistake and your food had to be remade. Usually a server isn’t the cause of a long wait. It’s also good to know if you ordered food that takes a long time. These are foods like wings, pizzas, fish, burgers and steaks. Servers try to put the order in as soon as possible, but there’s no real way to rush it. If you aren’t happy with something, please tell your server so that they can try to fix it. Oftentimes people won’t say anything and then leave, never to come back, because of something that could have been amended. Likewise, if something isn’t to your liking and you then leave a small or nonexistent tip, the server suffers and doesn’t even know why. Give us a chance to help you. They want you to enjoy your time. On that topic, tipping is a vastly misunderstood art. Let me start with the basics. Servers rely on tips. It’s expected that they will receive them and so they earn less than minimum wage. Right now, the Indiana minimum wage for servers is a whopping $2.13. So when you forget to tip, or decide not to, know that they basically aren’t getting paid for all the work they did for you—and unless you were never greeted or given food, they did work. I know it’s easy to feel like you don’t owe a server any tip, but regardless of how unfriendly or forgetful they were, if you got food, that means they took your order, entered it in, got it to you, and cleaned up after you. That’s at least deserving of a dollar or two, right? Now maybe you’re thinking, “But I’m terrible at math. I never know how much to give.” Have no fear. It’s pretty simple. Depending on where you are, the accepted percent changes. Where I’m from, 20% is the standard. I generally go a bit higher than that because, odds are it’s less than dollar more for you and it really makes the server’s night better. If you don’t want to pull out a calculator every time you go out to eat, here are two easy tricks. One- in order to find 20% just take 10% of your bill and double it. Finding 10% is really easy because you just move the decimal point once to the left. So say your total comes to $13.75, 10% would be $1.375 (or $1.38 to round). Double that (1.38 x 2 = 2.76) and you’ve got the tip. I find it’s easiest to round up to the nearest 50 cents, making it a three dollar tip. If you want an easier formula, just round up to the nearest five dollars and tip a dollar for every five you spent on the meal. If my meal costs $14, then I would round that up (always up!) to $15 and tip $3. Easy as that. Now as far as unusual circumstances go, there are a few. When using a coupon or having part of your meal comped (paid for by the restaurant), always tip based off of what the meal would have been. The server doesn’t do less work just because you have a coupon. Here’s the fun part. Ways to get the most out of your experience. Feel free to ask questions if you’re unsure of something. As I said before, acknowledge your server as a person. Chat with them. Have fun and joke around. (That being said, don’t keep them for too long if it’s busy and they need to do things.) Part of this is eye contact and using their name. Take care of your server and they will take care of you. Jim Sheehan, a former waiter who now owns a successful IT consulting firm, put it this way: “When I’m hiring, I always look for someone who’s spent some time as a waiter. What I learned waiting tables was far more valuable than anything I learned in college as far as how to interact with the human race.” The more you know, the better your experience will be. Put this to practice, and I promise you will avoid being a nightmare customer and simultaneously have a better time.
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